ONE sound advice that I got when I was younger was to avoid discussions on politics and religion during gatherings. It’s because, almost always, the discussion will end up in this scenario: You win a point but lose a family member or a friend in the process. Since both politics and religion are rooted in our personal beliefs, we tend to be quite passionate and stubborn in asserting or defending them. We believe that our views/opinions are the right ones and so does the other party. Each side wants to prove and win a point. Ending… families or friendships are broken.
The election fever in our country is now in full throttle with the official campaign period kicking off several days ago. Already, political debates, interviews, and mass rallies involving both the national and local candidates are happening in all corners of the country and on all media platforms. Candidates are again making promises, pledges, and plans. The usual gimmicks of entertainment, envelopes, and endorsements are in full swing. Not to mention the dirty mud-slinging they throw at each other. Never mind if they belong to the same family or circle of friends but from different political parties. It’s sad and hurtful but I am not totally sorry for them because they are aware of the consequences of their decisions and still chose it. It’s their choice to put their political interest and ambition before family or friendship.
But what I am sadder about is what this election is doing to the ordinary Pedros, Juans, and Marias, who found themselves at odds with their own families and friends because of political differences. If you find yourself fighting with or frustrated and mad with your family member or a friend over whom they are supporting this election, you are not alone. Just go over and scroll your social media accounts and you will see how this bitter political divide is causing social polarization and taking a toll on families and friends. Family members attack and block each other on social media. Even decades of friendships have been affected and shattered under the pressure. They start “unfriending” or “unfollowing” each other on Facebook or Instagram. They do not show up at family gatherings or during “barkada" nights when those with differing political beliefs are around. I even know of a family, who stopped eating together because mealtime has become a political debate session. Worst, what’s supposed to be political has become personal leading to more damaging exchanges between parties and disconnection. This has given “ social distancing” a different meaning.
Unfortunately, the irony happens after the elections. The opposing winning candidates have patched up, reconciled, aligned, and even joined forces. As they say, in politics, there are no permanent enemies and friends, only permanent interests. This makes it easier for them to forget everything that happened during the campaign, and move forward. “Walang personalan, pulitika lang (Nothing personal, only politics).”
Meanwhile, the ordinary people who supported them have remained enemies with their relatives and friends. Since fights, disagreements, and hostilities between families and friends are more personal, they are deep-seated and more lasting. In some cases, reconciliation is not even an option. Because for these people, “Personalan ito, hindi lang pulitika”. (It’s personal, not only politics). That’s the whale of a difference between us (you and me) and our politicians.
But should this really be the case? Can we not express our political beliefs without necessarily hurting and ghosting or deleting those who do not share our beliefs from our lives? Is it possible to campaign for our own bets but remain civil with those from other political affiliations?
We have different beliefs and we just have to respect them. No matter how strong we feel about our own choice of candidates and how much we like others to see them from our lens, it’s important that we realize and understand that others also have good reasons for choosing their own candidates. You have your own sets of values, experiences, and beliefs influencing your choice. And they can be right. But these do not automatically make the values, experiences, and beliefs of others wrong. It’s just that they are different. Even family members can have differing preferences. Of course, we aim to convince others to see our candidates the way we see them and that they will eventually support them. But if this does not happen, we should not take this against the other person. It should not be an imposition. It should not be friendship/family over when we don’t win them on our side. We may discuss, argue, and disagree but we can still be civil with each other. Instead of judging people based on their choices, let’s be more respectful of our differences. When we find ourselves in the middle of a political discussion, it’s smart to have an open mind, stay calm, and know when to exit. It will help us avoid saying and doing things that we will most likely regret later on.
Highlight the pluses of your candidates and not the minuses of the opponent. Instead of resorting to the dirty and traditional campaign tactics of putting down the opponents, it’s more appropriate to talk about the good deeds and accomplishments of your candidates. Is it because not much good can be said about our candidates that we resort to maligning our opponents?
I personally laud any candidates who decline to say ill things about their opponents and instead focus on making their track records known to the public. When we see or read posts on a candidate that we are not supporting, instead of bashing or giving negative comments, why don’t we also make a post on why our candidate is the right choice? Remember, we are all entitled to our own opinion. Neither can we be forced to agree nor can we force others too. If we don’t agree, then ignore the post. Focus your energy and efforts on more productive activities concerning your candidates. We do not have to resort to condescending demeanors just to prove a point. It will be healthier to see, hear and choose from those with proven track records, sterling performance, and impeccable reputations. A big chunk of our voters still needs to know and hear more of these so they can vote wisely. But oftentimes, these are not made the centerpiece when we campaign for our candidates. It’s much easier to just dig into the muds of the other party. And that’s where the conflicts, disagreements, and rift starts.
Learn to use social media constructively. As social media offers so many benefits, including connecting us with our relatives, friends, and co-workers, especially during this pandemic, it has also become a platform for negativity. Fake news is all over social media. And because social media is so accessible and instant, it's so easy to post, react and make negative comments at the moment, without thinking them through. Comments/feedbacks are often made raw and unfiltered. Disagreements and conflicts usually start from a political post that you made or a comment you made on a post. Emotions are high, hurtful words are said, relationships are broken. As instant as our comments are, relationships can also be cut/disconnected in an instant, by simply “blocking" or “unfollowing” people, especially since most conversations and engagements are now done through social media. What do we then do? Try the 24-hour rule before making a post or commenting. You will be amazed to realize that it’s not worth commenting or posting after you have cooled down. The saying, do not make any decisions at the height of your emotions applies. Only this time, do not post anything at the height of your emotions. Or if you really have to make a comment or give feedback, it’s wiser to talk or message the person directly and privately. There will be better understanding and clarity when only the people concerned are involved. Usually, a simple comment is blown out of proportion when hundreds of people are involved. Let’s be mindful that anything that we share online cannot be taken back.
We live in a country where democracy exists and is valued. We will often find ourselves agreeing and disagreeing, supporting and contradicting each other, and standing for and against one another. We may even hurt others’ feelings unintentionally. That’s how democracy works. But it doesn’t mean that we have to disrespect, insult and malign one another, in order to defend the candidates that we support. Because at the end of any day, it should and will always be families and friends over politics.